21 February 2013

Nigeria: Jonathan Signs 2013 Budget By Weekend

All is now set for President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the contentious 2013 budget into law. Barring any last-minute change, Jonathan is expected to sign the budget before this weekend.

The latest development was sequel to a truce reached with the leadership of the National Assembly at a meeting Tuesday night in the presidential villa.

LEADERSHIP had exclusively reported that both parties would meet and trash out grey areas in the budget, preparatory to an eventual signing of the budget bill by Jonathan.

It was learnt that the president and the NASS leaders reached the truce after extracting some concessions: though the budget bill as reported would still remain the same as passed, it would be mitigated through a supplementary budget to be forwarded later by the president.

A dependable source privy to the arrangement also confided in LEADERSHIP last night: "All the grey areas have been trashed out with the president and the clean copy is now on his table. Hopefully, the budget would be signed anytime from now.

"What we were told is that the issue has been resolved amicably to the satisfaction of all. That much has been done. It now remains for the president to act. When he will do that is entirely at his discretion, but it may not go beyond this weekend or at most early next week.

"But I can assure you that, going by the latest information available, there is no question of presidential veto of the budget bill. In essence, the budget would be signed as passed, while other terms of the agreement would be implemented accordingly."

But LEADERSHIP gathered that the president agreed to leave the constituency projects as captured in the clean copy on the premise that a supplementary budget that would be forwarded soon after would be given expedited passage.

It was further learnt that the supplementary budget is to take care of the personnel cost, which was reduced to accommodate constituency projects that were padded by the lawmakers.

The Senate had last week mulled a possible overriding of the president's veto of the bill, basing it on the fact that the statutory 30 days for any bill to stay in the custody of the president had lapsed on February 14.

But the lawmakers were to reverse the threat, citing non-formal communication from the president. The lawmakers added that overriding any veto is only cogent if the real status of the budget is made known to it via presidential communication.

But the presidency has claimed that the delay in the signing of the 2013 budget is in the best interest of Nigerians to enable them get a fair deal of what comes out of it.

The special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, disclosed this yesterday while briefing State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja. He added that the delay in signing the budget "is all about making sure the best is done in the interest of Nigerians".

Asked about the outcome of Tuesday night's meeting and whether the 2013 budget would be signed yesterday as reported in a national daily (not LEADERSHIP), Abati said Nigerians would marvel at the outcome of what the executive and the legislature had been working at in the past few days.

Noting that he was not at the meeting on Tuesday night, Abati said, however, that the budget matter was still the way it was as addressed by the minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

According to him, there are grey areas in the document that needed to be tidied and resolved once and for all. He assured that once this critical stage is crossed by the two arms of government, the president would sign the budget into law .

He observed that, since there are two arms of government, there was need for clarification and further clarification of issues that bind them together, such as the budget. Abati said this need for proper understanding of any matter at hand is not tantamount to conflict or territorial breaches as being highlighted by the media.

The presidential spokesman said: "On the issue of the budget, the position remain the same as articulated previously by the minister of finance: that there are grey areas in the document that are being discussed by the executive and the legislature and that, once these are clarified, the budget would go to the next stage. So, there is no problem, although some of the reports in the media are trying to insinuate whether there is a conflict or problem.

"Where there are two arms of government involved in something as strategic as that, there will be need for clarifications and consultations to ensure that the overriding objective be in the best interest of Nigerians, to ensure that what comes out is a budget that serves our interest. This is not about conflict or territorial friction, it is all about making sure the best is done in the interest of Nigerians."

LEADERSHIP also observed that there was an ongoing meeting between President Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly which started about 4pm after the Federal Executive Council (FEC); deliberation was still in progress as at the time of filing this report.

The meeting yesterday followed another closed-door meeting on Tuesday night. Present at yesterday's meeting were Senate president David Mark, speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Tambuwal, minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, secretary to government of the federation Anyim Pius Anyim, director of budget, chief of staff to the president Mike Oghiadomhe and some other ministers.

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